What You Should Know

Frequently asked questions about volunteering for Ara Manzanillo

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1What will be expected of me?
The duties of the volunteers vary depending on the time of year - whether it is breeding season, there are newly released macaws to monitor or young macaws inside the aviary being prepared for release to fly free.

  • Daily food preparation and feeding for both the pre-release chicks inside aviary and supplemental feeding of the released flock via raised hanging feeders;
  • Regular site maintenance including daily cleaning of aviary, providing perches and enrichment for captive birds and various other tasks as necessary;
  • Participate in attending daily tourists or other site visitors;
  • Monitoring the health and behavior of captive and released birds;
  • Different tasks may be assigned depending on our current needs and the skills and abilities of particular volunteers, such as hand feeding young chicks inside our infirmary;
  • Fieldwork: depending upon the season this may include going into the forest, tree climbing assistance to monitor and repair nest sites, if you have the required skills;
  • Collecting or foraging for natural foods, including beach almonds and mountain almonds;
  • Volunteers also assist with the education and outreach activities as needed.
2What is the work schedule?
The work schedule is generally 5 ½ days a week. Work hours may vary and are arranged by the site supervisor. Typically, workdays start at 6-7:00 AM and end about 4:30-5:00 PM with appropriate breaks, including a long lunch break.
3What are the required qualifications?
The minimum age is 18 and the job requires being physically fit and active. Volunteers with a background in biology, ecology, animal husbandry and veterinary medicine or like fields are encouraged, however not required. Volunteers should be highly motivated, responsible and in fit mental and physical condition. Costa Rica is a tropical country and the weather can be very hot and wet. Fieldwork in the tropics is typically physically demanding and tedious (rain, mud, bugs, cultural differences, solitude, plentiful hiking and long hours). Recommendation letters and a CV are not necessary. But you can send us your CV if you wish.
4Do I need to speak Spanish?
Some basic Spanish is definitely helpful to get around and enrich your experience, but fluency is not vital. If fluent in Spanish, a basic level of English is preferred. German and French are also useful for assisting tourist visitation.
5How long do I volunteer for?
We require a minimum stay of 1 month and there is no limit on the length of your stay. We encourage longer term stays of 3 months. Most volunteers wish they could stay longer. The longer you volunteer the more you will learn and be able to work on your own, and gain the most from your experience.
6What travel arrangements do I need to make?
  • Please check the Costa Rica Tourist Visa requirements for your country. Generally, you will be able to stay up to 90 days in Costa Rica on a tourist visa. If you are staying longer you can renew this visa for an additional 90 days by leaving the country for 3 days (we are very close to the Panama border and most volunteers chose this option). We can help you make arrangements if a trip is necessary. Make sure that your passport is up-to-date and valid for at least 6 months after entry to Costa Rica.
  • o If you travel by air, you should fly into San José International Airport, (SJO). Depending upon your arrival time to San José, you might have to overnight in San José and travel to the project on the next day. The public bus transportation cost from San José to the site is about $22. There are several other options available including tourism vans small planes. Once you have confirmed your stay, we will send you more detail travel options and instructions. There are very many hostels and hotel options close to the bus station or airport if you stay overnight in San José upon arrival.
  • Having medical/travel insurance is required.
7Do I need to have Medical/Travel Insurance?
Yes! Having medical/ traveler insurance is a must. There are risks and dangers inherent to the habitat and the work we do. Upon your arrival you will be required to sign a Waiver/Release Agreement and to include emergency contact information. Ara Manzanillo will not be responsible for your medical bills. There are both private and public medical services available close by.

If you take any medication, make sure to bring enough with you for your stay or confirm that it will be available in Costa Rica. Let us know if you have any special medical condition or allergies that we should be aware of. There are small clinics close relatively close to the station in case of emergencies.

8What are the living conditions like?
  • Costa Rica is generally safe and you are unlikely to have any serious problems. However, petty theft is becoming more common. Be careful with your personal belongings, do not leave them unattended while traveling.
  • At the station, accommodations are rustic and basic. The Ara Manzanillo Station is located in Limón Province, along the South Caribbean coast. There is a two-bedroom cabin with a shared bathroom and a kitchen for 3 people.
  • Since the site is located in a remote area some distance from the main towns, social life is limited. If you are looking for a very active social life, this is probably the wrong project for you.
9How is the weather?
Ara Manzanillo is in a Humid Tropical Forest. Temperatures can vary from cool nights (18°-23°C) during December and January, with warm days (28°-32°) and tropical rain/thunder storms. Depending on the time of year you might get a lot of rain or dry spell. Sometimes there are mosquitos.
10What will I eat? Is it hard if I have a special diet?
Having a special diet is not generally a problem. The staple food in Costa Rica is easily adapted to suit most diets: vegetarian, vegan, lactose free and even celiac diets can be accommodated. If you take supplements, bring enough for the length of your stay.

Basic general food supplies for the week are purchased once a week at the nearby town. If you need to get a specific thing for your dietary requirements or want to buy personal treats you probably can find them in Puerto Viejo. You will likely spend $60-75 per week, depending on your habits and dietary requirements. There are also mini-markets closer to the site where you can also purchase most things. All staff and volunteers are expected to cook and do dishes. Eating in restaurants gets expensive as taxes and services bring up prices, however, we do have excellent and diverse restaurants in the area.

11What will I need to bring?
This is a list of recommended clothing and equipment:
  • Closed shoes, lightweight hiking or walking shoes with treads are best
  • Rubber boots (available nearby), socks
  • Sandals
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent (locally available)
  • Waterproof light jacket or poncho, especially for rainy season
  • Dry bag or Ziploc bags
  • Informal clothing for warm weather - shorts and tank tops/t-shirts that you don’t mind getting stained. You will be able to do laundry, so best to travel light! We supply uniform t-shirts.
  • Long light-weight field pants, light-weight long-sleeved shirt.
  • Sweatshirt or sweater, light sweat pants or leggings – can get chilly at night
  • 1 set of nicer clothing for special occasions
  • Swimwear, hat and sunglasses
  • Garden or work gloves (we can provide)
  • Towel
  • Light weight bed sheets and pillow case (we provide pillow, sheets and blanket, so this is only if you prefer your own)
  • Camera/phone- battery and charger- there are continuous great photo opportunities
  • Tablet or smart phone and adaptor if necessary for use with 110v US outlets
  • Binoculars (we have some)
  • Flashlight/head torch with extra batteries
  • Prescription drugs if needed
  • Entertainment, like games, books or sketchpad
  • Ear plugs, if you are a light sleeper – macaws and other jungle noises can be loud!
12Will I have mobile signal and internet access?
There is a mobile signal at the site, but it can be inconsistent. There is also limited Wi-Fi at the station. We advise you to buy a local SIM card upon arrival at the airport to use in your personal phone if unlocked and compatible. There are several pre-paid mobile phone service providers in Costa Rica, Kolbi, Claro and Movistar, among others. We recommend you obtain Kolbi service if possible, as it is the provider and has signal throughout the country. Some international mobile services may not work in Costa Rica and roaming is costly, check with your provider. We do have a smart phone and laptop at the station.

Bring your own laptop if you wish, but take into account that humid conditions require special care.

13What about money?
Costa Rica is relatively expensive in comparison to other Latin American countries, but you can eat and live relatively cheaply. The currency is ¢ Colones, but $ USD are widely accepted, the exchange rate is a bit more favorable at the bank. Do not exchange money at the airport.

There is no need to travel with large amounts of cash. There are banks and ATMs in most towns that accept the major international cards such as Visa or Mastercard. Do not use the ATM at SJO airport as sometimes they are rigged to copy your info. Make sure your credit or debit card is activated to make international withdrawals, please check with your own bank before traveling! Please have photocopy of passport for day to day out and about and bring original passport for bank transactions.

14What wildlife will I see?
Costa Rica has a bewildering array of birds, mammals, amphibians and insects. If you are lucky you might see these beautiful creatures in the wild: Great Green Macaws (yes!), Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, White-faced Capuchins, toucans and other parrots - over 300 species of birds, Coatis, Agoutis, Raccoons, Kinkajous, possum, a rare cat such as ocelot or puma or tayra, and perhaps sea turtles using the beaches for nesting or if sea is clear there are coral reefs for snorkel and diving. We also have snakes, iguanas, geckos and bright colored dart frogs living about.
15How do I confirm my participation?
After applying on our Volunteer page, we review your application and requested time of stay. We may ask you for additional information to be able to better determine whether you will fit well with our team. Once you receive an invitation to participate at the Ara Manzanillo Volunteer Program, you will need to confirm the exact dates before the deadline given. We process applications year-round in the order we receive them. We usually respond within 2 weeks.

In order to confirm your participation, you should follow these steps:

  • Make the payment for at least one month ($300) of your stay. You can pay through PayPal here or wire transfer to our Costa Rican bank, provided upon request)
  • Send us a copy of your air or bus travel ticket receipt and itinerary;
  • Provide emergency contact information and proof of medical travel insurance.

We will reserve your space for the indicated dates once we determine that you are fully committed to the project by receiving this information.

16How can I pay?
You can pay the $300 per month for lodging and administrative costs in advance here or in cash upon your arrival. The payment can be made monthly if you are staying for longer than a month and will be reduced if you stay for 3 months or more. The one-month fee is nonrefundable, even if you cancel your trip or if you do not stay for the entire time you had committed to.
17What happens if I am not able to come or if my plans change?
If you are not able to come, or must change the dates, please let us know as soon as possible in order to fill your place. If you have already made your payment we do not provide refunds.